PTT, Dave Un­win

Is it re­ally quicker by air(line) than it used to be? Think again!


While rac­ing across the Northamp­ton skies the other month in a Cir­rus SR22T (see p.54) I glanced down at the M1 and noted, with­out sur­prise, that it looked more like a car park than a mo­tor­way. It’s ir­refutable; sur­face trans­port in Europe is be­com­ing ever more im­prac­ti­cal. The roads are reach­ing grid­lock while the rail net­work is suf­fer­ing from years of un­der-in­vest­ment. Will the so­lu­tion be found in the air? Well, if it is it clearly won’t be with the air­lines. Pri­mar­ily be­cause of in­ef­fi­cien­cies within the ATC sys­tem (although, in­cred­i­bly, many mod­ern jet­lin­ers are slower than their pre­de­ces­sors), the av­er­age time on most flights is prob­a­bly greater than it was in the 1960s!

The US govern­ment ap­pre­ci­ated this years ago, which is why NASA’S Small Air­craft Trans­porta­tion Sys­tem (SATS) pro­gramme was in­sti­gated in 2001, its goal be­ing to use ad­vances in avion­ics, com­put­ers, satel­lite and other tech­nolo­gies to ex­ploit un­der­used ca­pac­ity at the many US air­ports that lack con­ven­tional in­stru­ment ap­proaches, or even Con­trol Tow­ers. The idea was to pro­vide safe, re­li­able, point-to-point air travel be­tween the thou­sands of public-use air­ports in the USA — many un­der threat of de­vel­op­ment for other pur­poses — which are not served by sched­uled air­lines, yet are within twenty to thirty miles of 98 per cent of the coun­try’s pop­u­la­tion. By ap­ply­ing emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, the si­mul­ta­ne­ous op­er­a­tion by mul­ti­ple air­craft in non-radar airspace at and around these small non-tow­ered, min­i­mally-equipped air­ports in near all-weather con­di­tions would be­come vi­able.

WAAS and GPS would al­low lower land­ing min­ima by pro­vid­ing pre­ci­sion ap­proach and land­ing guid­ance while avoid­ing land ac­qui­si­tion and ap­proach light­ing costs, as well as the cost of ground-based pre­ci­sion guid­ance sys­tems such as ILS. ‘Smart’ un­manned air­ports would pro­vide pi­lots with weather re­ports, op­er­a­tional data and traf­fic se­quenc­ing in­for­ma­tion au­to­mat­i­cally via datalink by means of a ground-based Air­port Man­age­ment Mod­ule (AMM). This would make se­quenc­ing as­sign­ments based on cal­cu­la­tions of air­craft per­for­mance and po­si­tion, winds in the ter­mi­nal area, missed ap­proach re­quire­ments, and pre­de­ter­mined op­er­at­ing rules. A cor­ner­stone of SATS is the con­cept of ‘free flight’ — the abil­ity of pi­lots to op­er­ate au­tonomously, plan­ning and fly­ing routes of their own choos­ing di­rectly to their desti­na­tions with lit­tle or no in­ter­fer­ence from air traf­fic con­trollers, even in poor weather.

Traf­fic avoid­ance would be man­aged au­tonomously, and while con­trollers will still be re­quired at very busy air­fields, en-route con­trollers will prob­a­bly go the way of the flight en­gi­neer, ra­dio op­er­a­tor and nav­i­ga­tor. As each air­craft broad­casts a con­tin­u­ous stream of real-time tra­jec­tory data to all other air­craft in the vicin­ity, should a con­flict oc­cur the FMS pro­vides a resolution (usu­ally a change in head­ing or al­ti­tude) via the HITS dis­play, com­bined with syn­thetic vi­sion. These new sys­tems (most of which are al­ready in ser­vice), could triple — or even quadru­ple — airspace ca­pac­ity. Don’t be­lieve me? Read the G5 flight test. Who would’ve thought that small, pis­ton-en­gined fixed-gear GA air­craft would ever be fit­ted with glass cock­pits, let alone an ap­proach-cer­ti­fied IFR GPS re­ceiver, an Au­to­matic De­pen­dent Sur­veil­lance-Broad­cast (ADS-B) trans­ceiver, a com­mu­ni­ca­tions datalink, cock­pit dis­play of traf­fic in­for­ma­tion (CDTI), and soft­ware and dis­play graph­ics for self-sepa­ra­tion and on-board con­flict de­tec­tion and alert­ing? These sys­tems pro­vide a ‘pro­tec­tive bub­ble’ around an air­craft by alert­ing pi­lots to other air­craft and pro­vid­ing resolution vec­tors in the event of con­flicts.

For in­stru­ment ap­proaches, the ba­sic op­er­a­tional min­ima for a 200ft ceil­ing and one-half-mile vis­i­bil­ity would be a 3,200ft-long, 60-ft-wide run­way with a 3° glides­lope — and there are thou­sands of air­ports in the USA that meet these min­ima. In fact, most US towns of any size have a mu­nic­i­pal air­port; it usu­ally has mul­ti­ple run­ways and of­ten pilot-con­trolled light­ing. It’s a tremen­dous re­source, and an as­set to the com­mu­nity — a fact that is just not ap­pre­ci­ated in Europe. In the short term, it was en­vis­aged this sys­tem would be used pri­mar­ily by pro­fes­sion­ally-flown, on-de­mand air-taxi ser­vices fly­ing light jets such as the Cir­rus Vi­sion­jet, Eclipse 500 and Cessna Mus­tang, or tur­bo­props such as the Piper M500, PC-12 and TBM900. How­ever, for pri­vate pi­lots, the sim­pli­fi­ca­tion and au­to­ma­tion of many flight and nav­i­ga­tional func­tions and pro­ce­dures will in­evitably trickle down to owner-flown air­craft, mak­ing IFR flight and in­stru­ment land­ings con­sid­er­ably eas­ier.

I re­mem­ber a few years ago qui­etly fum­ing in the de­par­ture lounge at Charles de Gaulle air­port as it was an­nounced that my flight had been de­layed for ninety min­utes, a pe­riod of time longer than the ac­tual flight! If I’d had ac­cess to a per­sonal air­craft that par­tic­u­lar evening my pas­sage would’ve been greatly eased. In fact, even the most cur­sory cal­cu­la­tions will re­veal that for many desti­na­tions in Europe I wouldn’t even need a jet, or even a tur­bo­prop to beat any sched­uled ser­vice.

Be­cause se­cu­rity re­quires a very early check-in in these trou­bled times, it ac­tu­ally took eight hours, from my Parisian ho­tel to my Lin­colnshire home. I have a GA air­field only thirty min­utes from my house, and with a Cir­rus 22T I could cut my door-todoor trav­el­ling time by more than fifty per cent! Of course, for vast dis­tances you do need a jet, but for hop­ping around Western Europe a fast, well equipped GA air­craft will beat the air­lines more of­ten than not. Maybe one day the Govern­ment will take this very im­por­tant fact on board, and start en­cour­ag­ing GA, not sti­fling it. The rail­ways are a joke and the roads are worse, boats do of course have their place (pri­mar­ily on the wa­ter) — we need to make more use of the air! Prop­erly used, GA could greatly al­le­vi­ate the pain of trav­el­ling around Europe, and it’s high time that pri­vate air­craft were not viewed sim­ply as toys, but also as tools. GA isn’t just about hav­ing fun on a sunny day; it is a large and dy­namic busi­ness that em­ploys thou­sands of peo­ple and has a great deal to of­fer for the fu­ture prosperity of Europe.

A fast, well equipped GA air­craft will beat the air­lines...

Pilot’s Flight Test Edi­tor op­er­ates a Jodel D.9 from a farm strip and has logged stick-time on ev­ery­thing from ul­tra­lights to fast jets

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